Body-worn cameras can help with investigations, says the man in charge at Lacombe Police Service, but there are many hurdles before such technology can be implemented.
Lacombe chief of police Lorne Blumhagen said the technology may provide additional digital evidence that may enhance investigations which would benefit both the public and the police.
There have been demonstrations across the country and around the world since the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis last month. A police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. That incident was captured on video.
Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said he would push premiers and RCMP to equip police with body-worn cameras. He said it was a relatively simple way to address complaints that officers in Canada treat racialized people unfairly.
Lacombe Police Service has been looking video evidentiary devices since 2017, and although, accountability is partly a reason for the interest, but it isn’t the only intent.
“Our primary considerations for the use of any technology is how does it enhance the delivery of police services, and enhance overall public safety,” said Blumhagen.
“We would definitely use it for public complaints and oversight, but it would be primarily used for evidence gathering for any investigations, whether it be criminal or traffic safety matter or public complain type of investigations.”
However there are many roadblocks ahead before such technology can be implemented including legal challenges, cost, maintenance, resourcing and data storage.
“We are still assessing the want or need versus how we practically and lawfully use this tool,” he said.
Other concerns relate to privacy of the public as well as how much and when the footage or evidence would be used in court.
“Then we have issues around when members are utilizing body-worn cameras, when are they turned on and when are they turned off.
“Do you leave it running for the entirety of the shift? Or do you only turn it on during certain portions of the shift,” explained the chief, adding a police officer’s work day includes paperwork, public engagement and lunch breaks.
“Then we have issues when we get to court on what do we disclose? Do you we have disclose the entirety of the that members’ day or a portion of it?,” he said, adding depending on what the answers are, that footage may have to be vetted, which may require additional resources.
Answering these questions is important to comply with everyone’s charter rights and also rules of evidence for court, the Lacombe police chief noted.
“In managing those systems, how many resources do we need to go through hours of video, vet it, and provide the court with video that is required, and some of those areas have not been clearly defined or researched,” said Blumhagen.
If the system is implemented, the agency would also have to be ready for any future civil court challenges that may come with it.
“We are conscientious that if we are going implement something (like it) that we can be accountable to public, government, the court and our oversight bodies, if we are going to do it, so in my opinion we are taking a fairly responsible approach to it.
The Lacombe Police Service currently uses systems to record video evidence including in-car cameras and body worn audio microphones that tie in to the car video system in addition to interviewing systems. These systems are usually used during traffic stops, but can be used to record various interactions based on a officers discretion, Blumhagen said.
The Red Deer RCMP did not immediately respond to an interview request about the use of body-worn cameras.